As we take a moment as a Nation to reflect on the horrible events of September 11th 2001, it is important to remind ourselves that our public safety and homeland security leadership at a local, state, and Federal level are thinking about these issues every day. In the spirit of reflection, I would like to take a few minutes to share some of the areas identified as critical gaps by this horrific terrorism event fourteen years ago and point out correspondingly significant strides forward in three areas: interoperable communications, situational awareness, and cross-discipline coordination and command. These issues quite literally keep our best and brightest up at night worrying about saving every life possible and meeting the public’s high expectations in the face of disaster. While we have seen significant progress on these issues, we also have a continuing duty to maintain and improve the safety of our communities.
Interoperable Communications: The 9/11 Commission Report as well as impacted jurisdiction After Action Reports (AARs) highlighted significant barriers to voice communications—from building coverage issues to compatibility of radios across some fire/rescue & police partners responding on scene. If 9/11 has done one thing for our first responders and citizens, it has made this issue a foundational area of response that simply had to be addressed.
Agencies nationwide have focused their attention on using compatible radio systems with a standards—based approach to ensure connectivity across key response partners. In addition to major technology strides forward, policy makers and public safety leadership have put in the time and resources to develop the right protocols in advance of events and they are doing their due diligence by training and exercising on dynamic scenarios. While it is hard to quantify this type of progress, exercises are showing us that our responders are more informed and more equipped for that future black sky day.
Situational Awareness: Having real-time, accurate information to make decisions quickly to save lives was on 9/11 and is always an issue front and center to any Incident Commander or Emergency Operations Center Manager. Knowing where your people and your resources are and where they are going next is critical during an emerging disaster and there were significant obstacles to receiving and sharing this information on that fateful day.
It is exciting that today’s technology enables operational decision-makers to see events unfolding on a map on their mobile devices. This capability gives them a visual picture of the magnitude, impacted populations and structures, and even the responding units. That understanding of the wider picture helps save lives.
Cross-Discipline Coordination and Command: Large-scale disasters do not occur every day and because of their infrequency and magnitude, first responders and first receivers can often quickly jump into action before ensuring their next move is in fact the best next move. Some of the chaos and confusion that occurred on 9/11 highlighted the criticality of the principles of the Incident Command System (ICS).
AARs showed that jurisdictions that used ICS that day found that operations went largely as well as they could. In the intervening time the public safety community has made an effort to ‘be real’ about the disparate implementation of ICS nationwide. We now see adoption of ICS by not only fire/rescue, police, and emergency management, but also by other key partners such as public health workers, hospital officials, and public information officers. The adoption of ICS principles is creating a new coordinated culture of emergency response.
What are the other issues that you believe our communities have made significant progress on since 9/11? What still keeps you up at night?
Image By J.smith (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons